Surrounded by explosions and the burning effigies of evil demons, I know that tomorrow this whole island will be a dead zone.
I’m on vacation in Bali. And I love it!
Balinese culture honors the gods as well as the demons, because to ignore the demons is unrealistic, and allows them to sneak in unconsciously. That’s what I learned from my friend and Balinese priest, Wayan Sudarma.
So today, Bali is throwing the demons a party. First, the gods and the demons are given a feast. Food is left out, with prayers and ceremony, at the main crossroads in the village, because the demons love crossroads, and the chaotic traffic patterns they create here. Wayan pointed out how the Balinese buy the expensive imported fruits like grapes from New Zealand for this special day, to give the gods and demons a treat. After the gods are done feasting on the essence of the food, the families can take the “empty” food home and feast on it themselves – it becomes blessed left-overs for the humans.
And on this day, the demons are fed in other ways – loud noises, cacophony, drinking liquor, and even the ritual blood sacrifice of a small animal or through a much-loved tradition here of cock-fighting. Yep. The demons get all their favorites today.
Balinese teenagers and young people have spent months building huge painted paper mache figures of the demons called Ogoh-Ogoh. These monsters are fantastic artistic figures of lust, greed, rage, and all those darker energies that are often with us, whether we honor them or not. And tonight, there is a huge parade of the Ogoh-Ogoh, like a monster version of the Disney Parade, with more noise and revelry, designed to acknowledge and rile up the bad spirits, making them obvious, and helping people become more aware of these energies.
Pretty cool, right? Just wait – it gets even better.
Tomorrow morning, beginning at sunrise, the whole island goes silent.
The idea is that once we get the demons all fired up, they will move on, especially if there’s no party for them here tomorrow! So on the day known as Nyepi, the entire nation shuts down. The airport closes. All businesses are closed. And everyone – in the whole country – stays quiet. Anyone who ventures outside is escorted back to their homes by the police. Seriously.
The rule, even for tourists, is you gotta stay inside your place all day – your hotel, your home, your whatever. Don’t go outside. We don’t want the demons to know we’re still here. We want them to move on looking for the next party.
Traditionally, Nyepi is a day for fasting, meditation, and total silence. 24 hours. No electrical devices. No electric lights, even. No food. No pleasure making. Just introspection.
I find it so moving, so inspiring, and so beautiful.
A whole nation sitting in silence together.
It is said there are over 20,000 temples on this small island. That’s why I come here on vacation. I don’t know about you, but my soul cries out for this kind of devotional community. And it is here. And it works.
The Balinese are not often rich. Yet they are quite happy. They trust karma to take care of all things. So they don’t hold resent. They don’t deny the darkness, so they are aren’t repressed judgmental people. They value the choice and devotion to stay in the sacred energies instead of the demonic that is always also present. So the culture seems to support a radical self-responsibility alongside the deep teamwork of living together in community compounds where extended families share life.
This morning, my priestly friend Wayan took me and my beloved to the water temple, where we bathed in a sacred spring to prepare ourselves for Nyepi. Wearing traditional sarong, and approaching the water with hands in prayer, I was so moved by this simple and profound ceremony. A team of priests and worshippers sat nearby, praying and making offerings. With my intuitive sight, I saw their prayers as light, gushing blessings into the pool where we prayed. And I felt myself receive the blessings of clearing from this ancient culture in this sacred spring.
And as we drove back to our villa on the riverbank, I longed to bring this level of devotion, blessing, and return to the simple sacred back home to the US with me. So I begin by simply sharing this story with you, and inviting you to take a breath into this New Moon time, and perhaps allowing yourself to both acknowledge your demons, and to sit in the silence that bores them.